We are taking a break from our study on the pre-existence of Christ in John’s Gospel to tackle another important subject: the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers today.
The activity of the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives is the subject of many of the 250-odd New Testament passages which mention the Spirit. Yet there are some Christ-followers who claim that the Holy Spirit is not at work in believers today. They say that the outpouring of the Spirit in the first century soon dried up, and that today the Spirit’s activity is limited to the written Word, the Bible.
It is true that the manifestations of God’s Spirit ebb and flow, and vary over time and space (1 Corinthians 12:4). But the way the Holy Spirit was poured out in the New Testament left no possibility that it could be withdrawn again.
Jesus spoke at great length to his closest disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the other Helper. The Holy Spirit would be so effective that he could say, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7). Was Jesus’ promise for the apostles alone? Not at all. In the wider context of John’s Gospel, the Spirit was to dwell in the hearts of all believers (John 7:38-39), and everyone needs to be born of the Spirit (John 3:5-8). John later wrote that possession of the Spirit was a test by which we would know whether we abide in God and he in us (1 John 4:13).
When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, Peter emphasized that the promise of the Holy Spirit was not only for the people present on that day and their children, but for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39; cp. v. 33). See also Paul’s emphatic statements about the Spirit in Romans 8:9, 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 12:3.
It is difficult to imagine a time when Jesus left his followers without a Helper; when the promise delivered on the Day of Pentecost expired; when people could say they abide in God even though they have not been given his Spirit. But there is one illustration which, for me, shows beyond any lingering doubt that God sent his Spirit to dwell in the hearts of believers of all generations to come.
That illustration comes in the form of a distinctive Greek word which will help us to understand the role the present possession of the Holy Spirit plays in God’s unfolding plan. This word is arrhabon. The BDAG lexicon defines the word as “a legal and commercial technical term: payment of part of a purchase price in advance, which serves as a legal claim to the article in question, or makes a contract valid; in any case, it is a payment that obligates the contracting party to make further payments.”
We are very familiar with the concept of a deposit or down payment in today’s economy. In real estate purchases, car rentals, and many other transactions, a down payment or deposit is required as a way of demonstrating one’s commitment to eventually paying the full amount.
The Greek word arrhabon is actually borrowed from a Hebrew word, arabon, which is used in the Old Testament in Genesis 38:17-20. This passage helps us to appreciate the financial meaning of the word, although the transaction in question is a rather unsavoury one.
Arrhabon is used three times in the New Testament, all in the letters of Paul. Each time he uses the word figuratively to illustrate the role of the Holy Spirit:
“21 Now the One who confirms us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, is God; 22 He has also sealed us and given us the Spirit as a down payment in our hearts.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Holman Christian Standard Bible)
“4 Indeed, we who are in this tent groan, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 And the One who prepared us for this very thing is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment.” (2 Corinthians 5:4-5, Holman Christian Standard Bible)
“13 In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation—in Him when you believed—were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. 14 He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14, Holman Christian Standard Bible)
These passages tell us that our present anointing with the Holy Spirit is God’s mark of ownership upon us. People use a deposit of money to validate a financial contract and show their commitment to paying the full amount. In the same way, God uses a deposit of the Holy Spirit to validate his covenant and show his commitment to fulfilling the promise of eternal life. So this illustration from Paul’s writings should fill us with confidence that God is “supplying the Spirit to us and working miracles among us” (Galatians 3:5) even today.
If you have not received the Holy Spirit in your life, read Jesus’ parable in Luke 11:11-13. Then pray to God with confidence and ask him to fill you with that indescribable gift.